--a rapping Alexander Hamilton in the musical, “Hamilton”
In a fractious, divisive America, on the eve of a presidential election, there is at least one thing the Democratic and Republican Parties can actually agree on: the United States should be governed by a really old, white man.
Donald Trump, 74, was the oldest ever president to take office when he won the election four years ago. (Ronald Reagan was the oldest ever president: he was two weeks shy of his 78th birthday on leaving the White House, after two terms in office, in 1989.)
The Democrats had an opportunity to nominate someone “young, scrappy and hungry,” a new JFK to inspire a nation, build bridges instead of walls, and give Trump a simple message: “You’re fired.” Instead they picked someone even older. Joe Biden turns 78 next month.
The unseemly first presidential debate between Trump and Biden was like watching footage of a thrashing, groaning fight to the death of the last two dinosaurs on earth. Why must the president be a geriatric patriarch—in a youthful, optimistic, idealistic land of exuberant energy, innovation, creativity, diversity, opportunity, a land where a rallying cry of a generation was once “never trust anyone over 30”?
“America is a mistake,” Sigmund Freud told a friend on his return from a trip there. “A giant mistake.”
It was Freud’s sole visit to America—he was invited to introduce psychoanalysis to the New World in a series of lectures in 1909. It wasn’t a happy experience. He didn’t like the food, the informality, the unfamiliar surroundings. He couldn’t sleep. Perhaps he felt ill at ease among “an alien people clutching their gods.” Freud regarded any god as an illusion, a fantasy born of an infantile need for a father figure. America is an outlier in this regard: In one survey 60.6 percent of Americans said they are certain “God” exists. For the British the figure is 16.8. (Others results include France: 15.5; Norway: 14.8; Denmark: 13.0; Sweden: 10.2; Japan: 4.3.)
Freud would likely see the current presidential race as further evidence that America has daddy issues; specifically a chronic case of “father hunger.”
There is a “father absence crisis in America,” according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. One in every three American children are now growing up in a home without their biological father. According to the US Census Bureau, only 17 percent of custodial parents are fathers. Of the fathers who live apart from their children post-divorce, 27 percent have no contact with those children at all. One study reports that just 17 percent of American men had a positive relationship with their fathers.
In “Under Saturn's Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men," Jungian analyst James Hollis writes that when a parent is absent, the child “carries the deficit throughout his life. He longs for something missing, even as he might carry a vitamin deficiency and crave a certain food…all men, whether they know it or not, hunger for their father and grieve over his loss.”
Father hunger in women causes actual hunger, according to Margo Maine’s book of the same name, giving rise to “unrealistic body image, yo-yo dieting, food fears and disordered eating patterns.”
Americans look for father figures in teachers, preachers and self-help gurus; in famous athletes, tough guy movie stars, eccentric TV detectives. They turn for reassurance to the “founding fathers,” those quasi-dieties who united the early states, freed them from British rule, and wrote the Constitution.
And they look for a father-in-chief in the White House, in men like Bill Clinton, who never met his father, or Barack Obama, who never knew his, or Joe Biden, whose father struggled at times with poverty and unemployment but was a loving, constant father to the boy. Earlier this year, Biden wished his late father a happy Father's Day, saying, “As my father believed, there’s no higher calling for a woman or a man than to be a good mother or a good father."
Or in Donald Trump.
Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoons, likened the last election to a choice between mum and dad, and predicted Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. “The thing about dad is that dad is kind of an a-hole,” Adams told CNN. “But if you need dad to take care of some trouble, he's going to be the one you call. You know, if there's a noise downstairs, you probably are not going to call mom, even if she's awesome. You're probably going to call the biggest person in the room, you're going to call dad. So in our irrational minds, if the world is exploding and we're still talking about nuclear terrorism, I think people are going to say, maybe you want the most dangerous person to protect us.”
“What is it with men?” a client said to me recently. Another relationship had ended in disappointment; she was being “ghosted.” Her father vanished years ago. She’s had no contact at all since childhood.
Three-quarters of American men are circumcized, subjected as babies to a barbaric mutilation that belongs in another, more primitive century. The emotional circumcision swiftly follows. Writes bel hooks: “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves.”
The Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler argued that men will often overcompensate for their fear of vulnerability with a lurch toward stereotypical male aggression and competition. What Jung called the anima, the feminine, is denied; the animus is embraced. (To be whole, said Jung, both must be integrated.) The boy-man is pure animus—animosity—shorn of anything that might be considered anima—the animating effects of emotion, creativity, compassion, collaboration. The most macho are the most afraid.
Adler called this the “masculine protest” and regarded it as an evil force in history, underlying for instance the rise in fascism in the 20th century. To be taken seriously as a leader one must appear devoutly unempathic, unfeeling, uncompromising, unflinching (this is especially true of women, “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher being the obvious, almost-cartoonish example).
We tell our sons to man up or, in the absence of fathers, father figures or modern-day tribal elders, they are told nothing at all; they feel nothing, say little and become numb, inarticulate loners, expendable cogs in a loveless machine. Men make up 93 percent of American workplace fatalities and 99 percent of American combat fatalities. Men are three times more likely than women to take their own life, three times more likely to have an addiction, and they live shorter lives than women—on average a whopping five years shorter.
In many families, the father (if there is one) is like a shy, possibly mythic woodland creature: sightings are rare, and fleeting. Or they become the hapless chump of the household, the doofus dad who just doesn’t get it and can’t do DIY; the lovable loser who is part of the furniture of the great sitcom that is America. He is neutered, like the family pet. He dreams of making his own declaration of independence—of kicking over the saloon tables and riding off into the sunset, leaving women to clear up the mess. Sometimes, he actually does it.
Accompanying Freud on his trip to America was his young Swiss protegé, Carl Jung. Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was something of a father figure to Jung. Jung’s real father had passed away a decade earlier, when Jung was just 21. Paul Jung was a pastor who was plagued by doubts about his faith and was something of a disappointment to his son as a spiritual guide.
Six weeks after he died, he appeared to Jung in a dream, telling his son that he was better now and was “coming home.”
For Jung the dream was “an unforgettable experience” that forced him “for the first time to think about life after death.” From that night forward, Jung’s relationhip with his father took off. He learned more from him in death than he ever did in life. Death shall have no dominion.
Freud found such magical thinking intolerable. The two men became adversaries. Having discovered his father, Jung no longer needed a surrogate.
There’s a small but growing number of young female heads of state who manage to combine caring with capitalism, super-smart social democratically-minded pragmatists who are creating fair, functioning societies and by all accounts have done much better job of responding to the coronavirus than the US or UK. People like Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand), Mette Frederiksen (Denmark), Erna Solberg (Norway), Katrín Jakobsdóttir (Iceland) or Sanna Marin (Finland).
Perhaps America, too, is ready for such a president of the future rather than a relic of the past, someone smart, tough, fair, ambitious and multicultural—someone like America itself—someone like Biden’s running mate, California senator Kamala Harris, or, the next generation, 30-year-old New York Senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a bartender who took on the Establishment and won (see the excellent Netflix documentary “Bringing Down the House").
The father within
Father hunger is far from a uniquely American phenomenon. It is perhaps the wheels of capitalism that mostly spirit fathers away from their sons and daughters. We used to work to live; ever since what Polanyi called the “great transformation,” we tend to live to work, enslaved to a rapacious, introjected Faustian machine. Fromm argued that we are now mere robots, compliant cogs in the machine, concluding: “in the twentieth century the problem is that man is dead.”
A pre-coronavirus survey in January showed that three–quarters of UK workers felt stressed about work, almost two-thirds complained of feeling they are always on duty and cannot switch off, with 64 per cent reporting that their job had damaged their sleep patterns.
I see plenty of clients who never met their fathers, or never really knew them, or had fathers or stepfathers who they wished had been absent rather than violent, excessively demanding or abusive in other ways.
Many who have done everything they were supposed to do wind up in therapy in midlife because they feel like dead men walking. Success stories on paper, in person they are ghosts. They are absent from their own lives, never mind anyone else’s.
As Hollis points out, what a father cannot access in himself cannot be passed on.
Jung's “father hunger” was not satiated until he found within himself an inner father, an archetypal energy to protect, guide and offer spiritual wisdom.
Donald Trump is not your father. Nor is Joe Biden. Nor is Boris Johnson (actually he might be: His Wikipedia entry on his children simply says “at least six”).
Your father is you.
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart,” wrote Jung. “Without, everything seems discordant; only within does it coalesce into unity.
“Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.”
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